When the Smallest Words Make the Biggest Difference
Posted on January 19, 2016
“Gladiatrix” is the female version of a gladiator. Did you know that? Well, I didn’t until Sunday. For the past few weeks, I’ve been dealing with a whole lot of that ugly, totally unnecessary yet all too often existent state of mind: stress – and, boy, a lot of it. At 6 a.m. on Sunday, the piercing vibrations of a radar interjected itself into my dreams with its glaring repetitiveness; a rude inception. One. Two. Three. The weight of a thousand stones. At least, that’s what I imagined was keeping me down. Four. There was no more time. I had to face it – the literal and metaphorical wake-up alarm which was gnawing at my eardrums and at my life.
Well, hold on. Before you go calling a search party, I’m totally and completely okay. You won’t find me climbing the Swiss mountainside to broadcast to the world from the highest of heights, my voice funneling through an alphorn and echoing to village communities near and wide: worst week ever (think: Ricola commercial). On the contrary, I had simply undertaken a motherload of responsibilities and, well, the pressure of keeping up with it all began to weigh on me – hard. Will I have enough time? What do I do first? Will I disappoint someone in the end?
Stress is often the product of really good intentions. Anyone who has overfilled their plate with delicious to-do’s will probably say that they really wanted (cross their hearts) to juggle everything and make it work. Sometimes, we simply want to do it all. Other times, we don’t realize that we’ve committed to doing it all. How could that happen? Well, at that point of committal, that ambitious I’ll do it moment, we don’t know what additional responsibilities will arise in one day, week, month or even year. These additional responsibilities are never preferences, for you can easily say “no” to preferences (actually, attending the midnight viewing of Star Wars before my 5 a.m. flight to Hong Kong sounds like a terrible idea). Catch my drift? On the contrary, these responsibilities are almost always necessities, life musts, like caring for your children or your family or your own health. You commit to one necessity, then another, and after a while, the weight of a thousand stones. Just like that.
You know how appliances have a max fill line? Just like that, we all have an emotional threshold or, what I like to call, a stress summit. Sometimes, we just reach a point where we need to take a step back, breathe and regroup before everything boils over.
Let’s try this again.
For me, that point was Sunday.
On Sunday night, I was sitting in the passenger seat of my Tucson, the only comforting elements being the seat heaters and the reassuring words Brian whispered as I poured into a handful of napkins. Due tomorrow – the words jumped off my iPhone screen and into my gut where they wrestled each other for a few minutes. How can I possibly accomplish that? I tried to do it all. I tried to do it all and I will most likely fail. At least, that’s what I told myself. That’s how I felt. Of course, it’s wasn’t just the deadline that made me feel this way. It was an accumulation of many necessities: work, trying my hardest to be there for my family, all of that with an added deadline. Stone on top of stone. I had reached my max-fill line, my emotional threshold, my stress summit – reached it and was frantically waving from the peak: caution, overload. At that moment, I heard the words, the familiar yet distant words which echoed through the car and my mind: You’re a Gladiator. You got this.
You see, “Gladiator” is a term which Brian routinely uses in giving me hortatory pep-talks before big events. It stems from the use of the word to describe Olivia Pope’s lawyer clan on ABC’s Scandal. To Brian, however, the meaning of the word extends far beyond the plot of a primetime drama and a 32-inch T.V. screen. It represents what he sees in me: a fighter. In the Roman Empire, gladiators faced the most violent confrontations under the lens of an arena full of spectators, all collectively hoping for either a glorious victory or an entertaining loss. To walk through the stone gates and onto the sandy stage, to stare a lion straight between the eyes, that requires real courage. That is what Brian means when he calls me a “Gladiator.”
Before any big event, he always says, “You’re a Gladiator. You got this.” The night before my interview for my current job: You’re a gladiator. You got this. Before a dentist appointment or something as simple as a dreaded Monday morning: You’re a gladiator. You got this.
A gladiator is strong. And fierce.
A gladiator is what he sees in me.
To save for our upcoming wedding, Brian and I decided to exchange only ornaments this year and to begin a new tradition: each year, new ornament. What did he get me? A hand-crafted Gladiator, er, Gladiatrix (check out her cool braid in the back). Brian wanted this ornament to represent the big changes in my life during the past year. He wanted me to remember all that I swore I couldn’t do, and all that I accomplished in the end: new job, new apartment, a shinier and happier me. If you recall in my post about change, I filed through a ton of doubts before accepting my position at this new firm. Was it the right decision? Will I make it? Will they like me? Well, as it turns out, I made it (and, as far as I know, they like me). All I needed was a little confidence in myself, and to invoke that inner Gladiator screaming to fight for what’s hers. She was there all along, that bronze, shiny fighter: me.
I learned a really important lesson on Sunday night. First, that there is nothing wrong with expressing your emotions when you feel overwhelmed. Instead of keeping them bottled up inside, let them out. In fact, unaddressed feelings have a very short shelf life (eventually, they will get pretty smelly in there). Second, and perhaps most importantly, we are stronger than we sometimes allow ourselves to realize. I needed help remembering that, and the assistance came in the form of a bronze colored, vertical three-inch plastic ornament and a handsome man who gifted it to me.
Due tomorrow. Suddenly, the words didn’t appear as intimidating as they were before. Instead of asking, “How can I accomplish that?” I committed to myself: I’m going to do this. Do you know why? Because I’m a Gladiator, that’s why.
Yes, we all experience that ugly “s” word (stress) at some point in our lives. Sometimes, life necessities piled atop other life necessities make us reach that summit faster than we can scream overload. Of course, we aren’t running to the stress sign-up list to enthusiastically place our John Hancock’s under “sign me up.” It just happens, c’este la vie, and at different levels and for different reasons, too. Despite these differences, though, what we all have in common is the strength we carry inside. It’s there (that inner Gladiator), screaming to fight for what’s yours. So, when it happens, when you’ve reached that threshold, lean into it and then let it out. Just remember, that no matter what the struggle, if you search, if you dig deep, you, too, can find that inner force strong enough to get you through the toughest of times and fight off even the biggest obstacles – like that lion facing you in the stage.
You are strong. And fierce.
You’re a Gladiator (or Gladiatrix)
You got this.